"Trying to get Javan pepper and saltbush and squid ink and seaweed in the right balance... there's not a lot of use of those ingredients. Especially in beer."
There aren't many brewers in the world for who such conundrums would crop up. But, as head brewer at Dainton, it's the sort of curveball that comes the way of Cam Turner every now and then, often sent his way by brewery founder Dan Dainton.
He's on the brew deck at a brewery where it can be tricky from the outside to discern a core range, where the brand seemed to evolve every few months for a while, and where little seems to be off limits. It's also a brewery that's growing fast and picking up trophies along the way with Cam, once a mechanic and builder, the man overseeing the brewing team.
And, while he's only been at Dainton for three years, he's got more runs on the board as a commercial brewer than most. He started out at Hickinbotham Winery on the Mornington Peninsula in 2006, landing the dual roles of vineyard manager and brewer on the back of an interview he says involved little more than an Esky full of homebrew.
Before starting at the home of Hix Beer, he did have some experience with beer beyond homebrewing, however. While travelling from South America northwards in 2002/3, he stayed in a hostel in San Diego and was blown away by the beers he found in the local bottlo. This sparked his interest in beer and brewing, something he explored further when working at The Bull and Last pub near Hampstead Heath in London.
He took the opportunity to attend real ale festivals and learn more about cask-conditioned beers, all while frequenting the local homebrew shops and reading Charlie Papazian's "The Complete Joy Of Homebrewing". The live-in position at the pub allowed for some practical experience, bringing his burgeoning knowledge to bear on the cellar at the pub: noticing when the pub's practices could be better; spotting when a beer wasn't quite right and working out how it might be improved.
Once back in Australia in 2004, he tried Little Creatures Pale and was so impressed he wrote to the brewery to compliment them on the beer – the best he'd ever tasted in Australia – before a move from NSW to Victoria saw him land a few shifts on the bottling line at Red Hill, at the time the only brewery operating on the Peninsula. And then came the start of his career as a commercial brewer at Hickinbotham.
"It was a great place for me because I had to make everything work," Cam says. "It wasn't a brewery where everything worked; it was a brewery where nothing worked. You had to work out why things happened the way they did then make it work how you wanted.
"The hydraulic mash tun was my favourite; you'd take it to the paddock, flip the lever and give all the grain to the sheep."
By the time he moved to Dainton three years ago, the brewing landscape on the Peninsula was changing fast, while the number of small breweries across Australia had risen from a few dozen to the hundreds. And, once he made the move, things changed fast for him: the head brewer at the time, Matt Inchley, moved on three weeks later and he stepped into the role.
It's fair to say he joined the Carrum Downs brewery at a good time. Dainton have scooped two Champion Beer trophies in three years – one for their Cherrywood Smoked Baltic Porter at the 2017 Craft Beer Awards, a second for D3, the triple dry-hopped, double version of Red Eye Rye, at last year's Indies – and grown fast, hitting 500,000 litres per annum and projecting to hit one million next year, according to Cam.
All this happened while releasing a new canned beer every week – at least until recently when demand for the beers that are as close to a core (or Hardcore) range as Dainton puts out, such as Jungle Juice and the Blood Orange New England Rye IPA, has necessitated a little slowdown on the new release schedule. It's a change of pace on the RND front that's brought benefits for the brewers.
"Trying to work out hop contracts when you're doing a hundred years a beer is impossible," Cam says.
He says the creative process at Dainton these days is a collaborative affair, but admits: "The wacky ones come from Dan to us on the brew deck. He has the creative freedom to make us struggle...
"We've been doing it for long enough to sort of work it out; there's the occasional one where we go, 'This is difficult' [presumably the squid ink gose referenced above] but we've never had to dump any beers."
As for his favourite of the scores that had passed through the brewery in his time there, he has a fondness for the Super Trooper Imperial NEIPA and RIS – both appearing in new look 440ml cans soon – but can't go past last year's Champion Indie Beer.
"D3 just had everything for us," he says. "Massive dank, juicy hops and not only that but the malt was so complex."
Fans can look out for D4 coming later in the year too.
"It's happening," Cam says. "More hops. More alcohol. More of everything. We'll see how that goes."
Before then, however, more Cam as we invite him to become the latest brewer in our long-running Brew & A series.
Cam Turner – Dainton Brewery
Why are you a brewer?
Because I get fresh, free beer. Sorry non-brewers.
What would you be if you weren’t a brewer?
I would be sad.
What was your epiphany beer?
Hmmm... tough one. Many for different reasons. Good real ale in the England and Scotland blew me away.
How did you first get involved in the beer world?
Back in 2003, doing bar work in an old English pub, The Bull and Last. I looked after the cellar and was able to transform the quality of the cask ale there.
What's the best beer you’ve ever brewed?
It would have to be the triple dry-hopped double Red Eye Rye, our Champion Beer at The Indies last year. It has so many layers of yumminess.
What's your single favourite ingredient to use in beer?
Has to be yeasties; without those little gems of life there would be no beer. Hats off to you, little fellas.
Are there any beers you’ve brewed that might have been better left on the drawing board?
Ha ha, probably the Skittlebrau. It was a great idea and we got plenty of good talk about it, but it also got the wrong attention. So we had to can (no pun intended) the idea.
I'm staring right now at 15,000 labels that never got used. Anyone want a limited edition label or two?
If you could do a guest stint at any brewery(s) in the world, which would it be and why?
De Garde on the West Coast of the US – his heart and soul is in that brewery, with a traditional approach to making sours with New World twists. His brewery and beers are testament to the saying, it's not the size but what you do with it that matters.
Which local (Aussie or Kiwi) breweries inspire you?
Too many to mention. Anyone who commits themselves to taking on the startup and running of a brewery inspires me, especially small, family-funded and owned breweries, as it shows a real love and commitment to beer and its community.
It's becoming increasingly difficult to survive in this booming industry as big money gets involved and can make craft beer at a fraction of the cost.
What inspires you outside the world of brewing?
Anyone who devotes their time and energy to tackling climate change, whether it be big or small business, home or industry.
We need to give the world to our kids in a better condition than we got it in. Obviously, we are a long way off from that!
What's your desert island beer – the one to keep you going if you were stranded for the rest of your days?
It would have to be our IPA; can't get enough of those hops.
And what would be the soundtrack to those days?
Baby Shark and Pineapple Pen. That would be fun times.
If you couldn’t have beer, what would be your tipple of choice?
I'm sorry – me no entiendo! I’ll make wild fermented something or other.
What's the one thing you wish you’d known before becoming a brewer?
That I would have to grow a beard to get hipster cred!
Really I'm just using it as a yeast bank or ark should we be short on yeast cell numbers; just give it a shake over the fermenters and, "Whamo!" Cam in a can. Not really…
And the one piece of advice you’d give to anyone considering a career in craft beer?
Get as much experience as possible, whether it be volunteer work at a brewery, study at uni, brewing beer at home. It's very hard for small breweries to take on people without experience.
You can find other entries in the long-running Brew & A series here.